My public language

Whenever prompted on what language I like writing in, I set off on a long rant on how torn I am between Romanian and English and how I’m always under the impression that I have to pick one over the other and blah blah blah. Typical self-indulgent stuff meant to get women teary eyed. While I sort all that stuff out (along with the best continuation to the phrase “I was blowing up a hamster with a hand pump when…”.) here is a great explanation for picking English over your native language.

It comes from Eva Hoffman, a Polish immigrant and author, and I found it while reading “Yesterday’s Self,” a wonderful book about nostalgia, its role in building identity, and its manifestation in the lives of immigrants. I will return to the book in future posts–as I have a lot to say about nostalgia, yearning for an elusive “home,” and finding a true self–but let me share these passages by Hoffman, who writes about choosing a language to write her diary in.

In the solitute of this most private act, I write, in my public language, in order to update what might have been my other self. The diary is about me and not about me at all. But on one level, it allows me to make the first jump. I learn English through writing, and, in turn, writing gives me a written self. Refracted through the double distance of English and writing, this self–my English self–becomes oddly objective… However, I discover something odd. It seems that when I write (or for that matter, think) in English, I am unable to use the word “I.” I do not go as far as the schozophrenic “she”–but I am driven, as by compulsion, to the double, the Siamese-twin “you.”

And here’s some more. To a certain degree her views serve as a good explanation of why this blog is written in English and not Romanian.

The though that there are parts of language I’m missing can induce a small panic in me, as if such gaps were missing parts of the world or my mind–as if the totality of the world and mind were coeval with the totality of the language. Or rather, as if language were an enormous, fine net in which reality is contained–and if there are holes in it, then a bit of reality can escape, cease to exist. When I write, I want to use every word in the lexicon, to accumulate a thickness and weight of words so that they can yield the specific gravity of things. I want to re-create, from the discrete particles of words, the wholeness of a childhood language that has no words.

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